Jon flops back in the pillows scattered over Dany’s bed to stare up at the pleated silk canopy that hangs overhead. As his eyes drift shut, he’s vaguely aware of her moving beside him. He’s bone weary though the day is new. She’s exhausting. In wonderful, terrible ways.
When she curls into his side, he can tell without looking that every inch of her skin is bare. She needs no cover on this spring morning, though the windows are open and the air blows cool. Indeed, even in the depths of winter, the queen dressed scantily compared to the rest of them. The fashions she inspires these days are decried in conservative corners of the court as decidedly scandalous. Mayhap she wants men to look, but Jon suspects she merely burns from the inside like her dragons.
Jon despises the beasts, though they saved the kingdom from the Others and their wights. There is something so wrong about them. He hates to think there is a kinship between him and the scaled creatures. A kinship born either from slipping inside their crooked minds during the final battle or from his own Targaryen parentage.
The queen, however, has no such reservations. She treats and refers to them as her children. It’s enough to make the skin crawl. An unkind thought, for they are the only children she will ever have. No fruit will ever be born of Daenerys and his coupling, no more than with any other man she beds.
Sometimes he thinks that’s for the best, when it comes to the two of them. There is something unnerving about the fact that he can’t find it within himself to quit her bed, when he is perfectly aware of the relation. For all that she is beautiful and young and brave, she is also his aunt. What would that make their babes? He would rather no children be born of their union. A selfish thought, no doubt.
Sometimes he thinks the worst is brought out in him here in King’s Landing.
“I have need of you in the North,” she says, assuming the voice of command she uses with her subjects, though she straddles his leg, leaving wetness behind. Despite his place in her exotically draped bed, he is a subject, the same as all the rest, and she has always made that plain. “The snows have melted enough for you to make your way, I am told.”
It is as if she heard his unkind thoughts and means to punish him by banishing him from her presence. That is the nature of their relationship: it is volatile as often as it pleasurable. Shared blood doesn’t prevent attraction, but it also provides little in the way of natural understanding. Jon feels almost daily that they are from two different worlds and it is a mistake to hope that their differences might ever be bridged.
“What is required?” he asks, brushing a hank of sweaty hair from his brow with his forearm, ready to submit to her command.
If she meant to send him to Dorne or some other distant place he has never laid eyes on, he might push back, but it is the North. Over the course of the past four name days, he has exchanged the Wall for a princely title and the North for King’s Landing. It is the former alteration he’s certain he will never grow accustomed to. A visit to the North, be it martial or diplomatic in character, will do him good. He would have already insisted on it, but his desire for the queen keeps him here as much as the odd jobs she finds for him in her vain attempts to make him useful in this foreign place.
“I need you to wed Sansa Stark.”
Jon Snow is not meant to marry Sansa Stark any more than he is meant to be the Lord of Winterfell. It is the height of presumption. It is folly. These are facts that he did not think needed challenging on the morn, when with his seed not yet dry on Daenerys’ thigh, she issued her command. He is still convinced of these facts as he rides for the North.
He has never ridden so slowly in his life. An irony, considering he has longed to see Winterfell for more moons than he can possibly count. He could spur his stead on, hurry to reach the gates of his former home and rush to be wed to his former sister, so that he might send a raven with the news to King’s Landing to assure the queen that she has gotten exactly what she bargained for. Under similar circumstances that is what Dany would do—out of spite. But as furious as he initially was, as hurt as he is now—does he mean so little to her that she can pass him off to another?—he can’t make himself dig his heels into the sides of his steed.
He delayed in his chambers in the Red Keep for as long as he could too, but it was impossible to shut out the queen. She came to him, looking wound tight with fury, repeating her command in increasingly loud tones until they were both shouting shamefully. She would not hear reason. With her mind made up, nothing could be said to dissuade her.
He spoke of the affection he had for his queen—that’s what he called it, though lust or passion or a relentless primitive ache might have been more accurate—and she waved him off. I dare say you will survive the separation. He insisted that Lady Stark was a loyal subject, that she needed no Targaryen lord to wed so that the North would not rise up under her banners, but Dany only crooked a pale brow at him, daring him to deny reports that smallfolk in wilder places grew restive as the snows retreated. He argued that the Northern lords would want his sister married to a fellow Northerner, and she looked at him as though he sprouted a second head. Where were you raised then, the Summer Isles? She lectured on the need to produce an heir to the throne, a duty which must fall to him. She was unimpressed by his explanation that Sansa might in truth be his cousin, but she was raised as his sister, will always be his sister. Why, we are Targaryens, she reminded him, and nothing could be more natural.
Unnatural, he shouted. Like her bloody dragons.
He’s lucky she has need of him and did not decide to feed him to her children.
The bride selected for him will not appreciate the queen’s command either. She will take it as a usurpation of her rights. Which it is, though he means to ensure she is not displaced within her own home. Sansa might even suspect he has dreamt this plan up, so as to take what was never meant to be his. And who could blame her?
He said no to offers of Winterfell before, refused them to defend Sansa’s claim. He told kings no and never sought credit for doing what was right. But refusing a queen is a different thing entirely.
Sansa knows what his coming means for her. For though Jon insisted it ought to be him to put the offer to Lady Sansa, Dany sent a raven before he ever mounted up to leave. After his reaction to her plan, mayhap the queen envisioned an outcome to his trip to the North that did not end in the marriage she has seen fit to saddle Jon and Sansa with if Jon was left to deliver the news. The Lady of Winterfell will understand, thanks to the content of that letter, that this is no offer to accept or reject at her leisure but a royal command intended to bring the North to heel.
Jon half expects to be met by a shower of arrows when he comes within firing range of the gates of Winterfell. It would not be unheard of: Sansa mounted an impressive defense during the war, when the Vale was overrun. Her husband, a late casualty of war, was fighting elsewhere, and the defense was left to her, a lady untrained in siege warfare. Lack of training proved not to signify. No man could have done better.
Jon was proud of her. He managed to tell her so the one time he saw her since they were children, though not in the warm tones he should have—he was little more than a shell by the end of the war and he owes his recovery at least partially to his queen.
Sansa came to pay homage to the queen in King’s Landing, as the queen required of all lords and ladies of Westeros. When she stepped forward, her name having been called by Daenerys’ Hand, Sansa was so changed that Jon hardly knew her. It wasn’t only her long, dark hair braided down her back that marked her as changed. That was little more than a disguise. It was the way she walked as proud as Dany and what looked like twice as tall, the steeliness that spoke of pride and hinted at distaste, when she kneeled, and her new womanly body.
He gave no thought to those details then, but as the Lady of Winterfell greets him in white furs, coppery hair whipping about her face in the quick winds of spring, he remembers how she looked in the grey silk court dress cut lower than anything Catelyn Stark ever wore. His queen would have him learn this woman’s body as well as he has learned her own for the sake of a dynasty.
Sansa stands stiff backed before him before dropping into a low curtsey. His hand darts out to stop her. “Please, my lady. Let’s dispense with formalities.”
“When have you ever known me to do that, Jon?” she says, testing the name on her lips with a sharpness he doesn’t miss.
They were not especially close as children, but they were not enemies either. Daenerys’ command has destroyed whatever affection remained, erasing the little that was left of their family.
Sansa is not quite welcoming, but she is ever appropriate, never forgetting her courtesies. While looking at him with blue eyes completely devoid of warmth, she inquires after and sees to his every comfort. He is presented to the household and lords of the North as a much lauded visitor.
Nevertheless, he has never felt more unwanted in what should feel like home. For all the difficulties of being a bastard in a noble home, his memories of Winterfell are almost uniformly pleasant, no doubt blessed by the glow of childhood nostalgia. Winterfell is no longer that place. It is physically changed thanks to the destruction wrought by a string of conquerors, but the real difference is that he is not wanted. Particularly by Sansa.
“I could poison you and make it look like you died of a trifling cold,” she tells him on the eve of their wedding. “But I won’t.”
“Why is that?”
“I did not love you as I ought, but I did love you. Once.”
He loved her as a child as he loved all his siblings. There is no talk of the past and no talk of love, however, on the day of their wedding. There are only the angry glares of Northern lords, who think their rise has been hindered by his coming here and securing their lady’s hand, and a tightlipped Sansa, whose smiles are saved for the women she surrounds herself with, companions and servants and guardswoman she collected over years of eking out her own way.
There are no smiles in the bedchamber. No raucous laughter to speed them towards the bedding, for no one thinks stripping the solemn Prince and their unhappy Lady a tempting proposition. They are left alone together for the first time since he arrived, and as she slides one shoulder and then the next out of her darted sleeve gown, he wants to tell her to stop.
They are brother and sister.
Their father, Ned Stark, would not want this.
Jon does not want this.
But Daenerys did not send him here to be Sansa’s husband in name alone. They have a duty to the realm and a duty to Winterfell.
Instead of putting a stop to this madness, he vows, “I won’t hurt you.” It’s the best he can offer.
They develop a routine. Jon stays out from under foot, imagining that is the best way to achieve harmony between them. Sansa continues to manage the household and conduct herself much as she did before his arrival. The smallfolk come to her, not Jon, by and large, and the servants pay him little mind. After several moons pass, Sansa seems to have accepted that her position as lady and not merely his lady wife is secure enough.
She begins to come to him for advice. Sometimes on decisions she has not already made, giving the appearance of taking his opinion into consideration. He sees to the horses, the hounds, trains with the guards in the yard, and serves as errand boy, riding out to visit Northern lords in a show of Stark authority. She mends his tunics and embroiders direwolves on his handkerchiefs, a touch the men at the Wall would scoff at if they were still alive, but one which he feels oddly sentimental about. Sometimes he sits in her solar for no other reason than to discuss the content of their day. And once a moon he comes to her bed.
Shared blood or shared experience eventually smoothes over what seemed like the insurmountable difficulties of the arrangement, making it surprisingly comfortable. It is nice. He is content. Until their established routine is upended by a raven from the South. It is a command from the queen meant for Jon. He is to return to King’s Landing with all due haste. No reason given. The queen does not need a reason to recall him.
A week has gone by since the raven arrived, when Jon comes to his lady wife’s bed. He never stays through the night. There is too much awkwardness in the immediate aftermath of their coupling to linger and tonight is no different. Jon stands by the bedside, shrugging on his silken dressing gown with his back to Sansa, allowing her the space to compose herself before he leaves her for the night. At the most he expects her to tell him to sleep well as she has sometimes done previously.
“Will you be leaving soon, Your Grace?”
When he gave the message over to her to read, she bestowed upon it only the briefest of perusals and then set it aside without comment, her face a perfect mask. There has been no discussion of his departure.
He frowns, wrapping the belt of his dressing gown about his waist. “Not if you have need of me presently.”
“I don’t suppose it can be long delayed.”
“No. It’s best not to test her patience,” he says, looping one end of the belt around the other.
“Will you dishonor me while you’re gone? With the queen?”
He holds the belt unknotted about his waist, his eyes darting to the left, where he can only make out the edge of the bed he has just left. Her question heightens the discomfort he feels in her presence after being inside her. Dany is conjured up by her words. Immaterial and yet painfully real in his wife’s bedchamber, begging comparisons he has worked very hard not to make. He has tried to forget King’s Landing, and with no great love for it, he has mostly succeeded. It is harder to forget Dany and what he found in her bed.
The queen’s message stirred conflicting feelings within Jon. As he and Sansa grew into their respective positions, being in Winterfell began to feel like home once more, and when he is out riding with the men, he is at peace in a way he isn’t within the walls of King’s Landing. But for all his initial anger, he has missed Dany, and if he is honest, he has missed her bed as well.
His marriage bed is a duty, a sad imitation of the excitement he knew with Dany or the flush of green enthusiasm he experienced with Ygritte.
“These whispers reach all the way North,” Sansa says, as he forces himself to tie the belt and give her his attention. She has pushed herself up in the furs and stares boldly back at him with the linens pulled up to her chest. “It’s no use denying it, Jon. Everyone knows.”
It wasn’t his intention to lie to her. It only seemed the sort of thing one didn’t speak about with one’s lady wife—past lovers. It was another life, which sometimes haunts him in quiet moments, but need not trouble Sansa.
He swallows. Ought he to apologize? For having a past? No. for the lie by omission? He’s not quite sure.
It was an open secret at the Red Keep, but those who have been with the queen for years were mostly uninterested in whom she bedded. Jon was not the first. In the Prince’s absence, there’s like to be someone else that’s taken his place. Not the first and not the last.
He can’t begrudge her the company. Being a queen can be lonely. He understood that better than some, having been a Lord Commander and then a reborn oddity that people did not fully believe to be human.
“I saw how you looked at her,” Sansa says, adjusting the linens at her breast. Only her pale shoulders show. Shoulders he has kissed in his more amorous moments, when she became not his former sister but his wife. “I’m surprised she spared you for this long.”
While Jon had not thought to ever be required again. “We fought a great deal,” he says, realizing immediately how lame his claim—however true it is—must sound to her.
She raises her brows before her shoulders sink in a deep sigh. “They’ll say you dishonored me whether you do or not. That is the way of rumors. But I’d rather hear the truth from your lips.”
He is surprised she trusts him to be honest with her. Mayhap they have built more between them than he thought. Whatever there is will be threatened by his trip South, however. It could be destroyed entirely by visiting Dany’s bed. Burned away by dragon fire.
He makes yet another vow. “I won’t dishonor you.”
It is the harder of the two to keep.
Jon never wanted to hurt Sansa. But he has desired Dany. He still wants her. Especially when she drapes herself over his chair on his first night back in King’s Landing, looking glad of him in a way Sansa may never look. He must remind himself that first night, when he goes to bed alone that Dany chose him, but he was forced upon Sansa. Why should she be glad of him?
It is all ugly, unfair comparisons in the Red Keep, faced with his former lover in her diaphanous gowns and unbound silver hair curling over her breasts. Dany’s openness is in pointed contrast to Sansa’s caution. Dany’s boldness reminds him of Sansa’s watchfulness. Dany’s command of her sensuality brings up thoughts of the perfunctory lovemaking he shares with his lady wife.
She asks him once during his visit for a report on his wife. “How is your lady wife, Jon?”
Though confessing things to Dany was once his comfort, his gut tells him that he should hold back, that his relationship with Sansa is something private not to be shared. He gives her a formal, uninformative answer that she receives with a slow tilt of her head.
“I’m glad to hear it,” she says, adding, “You and I would have torn each other apart eventually. You’re better off. Don’t you think?”
He’s not sure.
Even in their similarities Sansa and Daenerys are different. Both women are drawn to care for the poor and oppressed and weak. They both have what some might call a woman’s heart, but Dany tends towards great gestures to uplift and Sansa works best on a more personal level. He has watched Daenerys free the smallfolk of their tax burden and Sansa tend the kitchen girl’s daughter, when she was sick with a sweating sickness that might have carried Sansa off too. He admires both women for that kindness, respects them for their special kind of bravery, and it should not come down to whose bed he prefers.
He is eager to prove his honor through staying true to his vows, but it isn’t the first time Jon has found it difficult to be the honorable man he wishes to be, which no doubt makes him less Ned Stark’s son than he ever wanted to be.
There would be real passion in Daenerys’ bed. He knows the taste of her cunt and the bite of her teeth. When she talks half the night, a goblet dangling from her fingers, as she tips her head back to laugh, he imagines he might even love her. If he gave in, she would take control and direct him in achieving her pleasure in that way that makes him impossibly excited. But Ned Stark never dishonored his lady wife, and for all his wanting, neither will Jon.
He thinks of Sansa instead, when he takes himself in hand alone in the Prince’s old chambers. Unnatural, a voice scolds, to indulge his baser passions, while picturing his proper, ladylike sister, but they have not been brother and sister for some time. He is not the boy that was and what he remembers of Sansa from before can be summarized in too few words. The woman she has become is someone else entirely and that woman is his wife. His principles might initially revolt, but nothing could be more natural than to miss one’s lady wife and take comfort in memories of her long legs wrapped around his waist or the smell of lilac in her hair after she is fresh from the bath.
By the time he is ready to return home, he is almost convinced the differences between Daenerys and Sansa not as great as he once believed. It was only circumstance that made Sansa cautious, reserved, and sometimes cold. Jon can’t right past wrongs, but he can ensure Sansa never need feel guarded around him again. He can stop treating their marriage bed as though it is his least favorite duty. For if truth be told, it is far from it.
It ought not to matter why Sansa didn’t want him to return to the queen’s bed. As her husband, he owes her his faithfulness. However, when she shows no pleasure in his return to Winterfell, treating him as coolly as she did when he came to marry her, all their hard earned marital progress seemingly lost in the intervening moons, he is stricken with an acute sense of disappointment. He wonders with no small share of bitterness why it even mattered to her whether he bedded the queen, when she obviously does not care.
“Why did you ask me whether I would dishonor you?”
They sit at table, surrounded by the household and a few visiting lords drawn by Jon’s imminent return. Gawkers, who expect a lavish table to be set for the Prince. His voice is low enough that none of them could possibly hear the question he puts to Lady Sansa, but he can tell from the way she bristles beside him that it is ill timed.
He has perchance imbibed too much.
Her eyes remain fixed on her trencher, when she asks, “Was it too much to ask, Your Grace?”
“I kept my promise.”
“She would not have you back then?”
“Sansa,” he says, covering her hand atop the table. “I am glad to be home.” Are you glad to have me, he means to ask? But she pushes back her chair and disappears without so much as a look back.
Forcing joviality, he eats his supper without tasting and calls for another round of ale for everyone in the Hall—himself included, though he doesn’t need it—before ordering the room to continue their merriment and excusing himself for the night.
He should make for his chambers, but it is to her bed that he directs himself. Only to be turned away by a barred door and a stony faced Brienne. They spar often enough in the yard, but she is sworn to Lady Sansa and that is where her allegiance will always lie.
“Lady Sansa is asleep, Your Grace.”
“So I see,” Jon says, looking to the light that shines from underneath’s Sansa’s door, signaling her wakefulness. “Tell my lady wife if you would that I would speak with her on the morrow. Unless she is otherwise occupied.”
Sansa is too busy to see him after he breaks his fast—admittedly later than usual after weeks of travel and too much ale. She is still too busy after the midday meal to speak with him, and Jon begins to think she never means to speak with him again. In case he is wrong, Jon returns to her solar, seeking an audience with her before the cook has begun supper. His perseverance is finally rewarded and he is permitted entrance.
That doesn’t mean that she means to acknowledge him. He stands before the desk, watching her scratch sums in a ledger, purposefully ignoring him.
A childish urge to shock her makes him speak. “You will be the last woman I ever fuck.”
Her quill hovers trembling above the parchment and Jon steps closer to the desk, bending down to catch her eye. “I thought of little else but being between your thighs, while I was in King’s Landing.”
“Jon,” she warns, resting the quill on the blotter. “Don’t speak to me that way.”
“It isn’t who we are.”
“Who are we then?” he asks, straightening back up.
“We are a formality. A temporary necessity.”
His eye twitches the same as if she’d left a red print on his face. “I see.”
His wife’s gaze is evaluative, and he fears she can read him too easily. He has only to feel foolish about the nonsense he conjured about them both, while he was away, if that is how she feels about their marriage.
Sansa pulls her hands into her lap. “Do you love her?”
It might be satisfying to tell her yes, but he chooses honesty instead. “I don’t know.”
“I only knew for certain you would return, because I was not yet with child. Was the queen disappointed?”
“She didn’t say.” Though her parting words were do your duty. A reminder Jon no longer needed. He was eager to return. Not only to the North and Winterfell, but to his wife and her arms.
“Shall I tell you my greatest fear, Jon?”
Her composure falters. Her brow wrinkles and her mouth twists and there is enough of a waver in her voice that he can’t help himself. Frowning, he takes a step to move around the desk, to go to her, but she lifts a hand in a silent command to hold.
“I fear the day a raven comes that will send you South forever. I fear that you and my babes will be spirited from the North, once I have served my purpose. Has that not been the plan all along? So that she might have her heir and you two can be reunited once more?”
“No,” he answers quickly before he has time to consider. Has it been the queen’s plan? No. He can’t believe that Dany would take another woman’s children from her. Or steal a woman’s husband from her bed. She would not use a woman so badly.
Her hand is still raised, but he ignores it enough to circle the desk and kneel at her feet. “I don’t know what she plans. She does not rule by committee. Her command to wed you came completely without warning. I can only tell you my intentions.”
Sansa reaches out to touch his shoulder, brushing at something that mars the black velvet of his doublet, her rosebud mouth pursed hard enough to turn it white.
“I don’t believe she will call me away for good. And no one will take your children, Sansa. I swear it.”
“Our children,” she corrects.
Jon draws a deep breath and risks placing a hand on the heavy grey wool skirt of her dress. “Yes, our children.”
Jon wanted a wife and babes since he was old enough to know he could never have them. It seemed a punishment to be sent away from his queen and wed to Sansa, but it is the furthest thing from it. It might be Dany’s kindest gift. Dearer than the gold crown she gave to him, which he never sought to wear.
He doesn’t know whether it is possible to love two women, but he knows one thing for sure. “You are my greatest consolation, Sansa.”